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Indian billionaire told to pay debt to Ericsson – or go to jail

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Indian billionaire told to pay debt to Ericsson – or go to jail
File photo of Ericsson's headquarters in Sweden. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT
11:43 CET+01:00
An Indian businessman has been ordered to pay his multimillion debts to Sweden's Ericsson – or risk imprisonment.

India's top court told billionaire tycoon Anil Ambani on Wednesday that he must pay his debts to the Swedish telecom giant or go to jail, the latest twist in a saga that forced his telecom company to file for bankruptcy.

Ambani's debt-laden Reliance Communications is some $4 billion in debt after a brutal telecom price war that pitched him against his brother Mukesh – India's richest man – and gripped the country's business community.

Judges found Anil Ambani, 59, had refused to pay Ericsson 5.5 billion rupees ($77 million) as previously ordered by the Supreme Court.

They ruled the billionaire will be jailed for three months if 4.5 billion rupees are not stumped up within four weeks.

Ambani's firm said it will comply with the ruling and pay the debt. Some 1 billion rupees have already been deposited with the court, which said the sum will be handed to Ericsson.

Earlier this year, Reliance Communications said it had decided to start insolvency proceedings after failing to sell assets to pay back lenders.

The dispute started when Ericsson sought to recoup 16 billion rupees from Reliance Communications. They reached a settlement last May, but the Indian company failed to meet the payment deadlines.

Ambani had hoped to avoid insolvency proceedings by offloading his company's telecom tower and spectrum business to his brother's business Reliance Jio for $2.4 billion, but the deal hit regulatory hurdles and opposition from creditors.

Reliance Communications faces liquidation if it is unable to pay back its debts by November.

The Ambani brothers engaged in a bitter feud for control of Reliance Industries after their rags-to-riches father Dhirubhai Ambani died in 2002 without a will.

The pair ended up splitting the Reliance group, which was India's most valuable listed company.

 

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